Fresh air for stalled talks

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Fresh air for stalled talks

The high-profile North Korean delegation has created more than a few ripples from its recent trip to Seoul to pay respect to the late former President Kim Dae-jung. Media at home and abroad attach an assortment of meanings to the first formal government-level meeting in nearly two years. Many are predicting a breath of fresh air in inter-Korean relations, which have been stalled since the Lee Myung-bak administration took power early last year.

But skeptics are worried that the government might ease back its tough stance on North Korea - it has consistently insisted that further aid will be made available only if the North abandons its nuclear weapons program.

Right or wrong, the North’s latest trip has undoubtedly left a trail of excitement.

What we need now at each turning point is a cool head to calmly examine what lies ahead and reposition ourselves with new strategies and plans.

We believe the two governments must renew talks as soon as possible. They have a number of issues - a military standoff that encompasses the nuclear problem, possible reunions of separated families, a joint venture at Kaesong, tourism business and heap of other economic, social and culture programs - piling up because dialogue has not been possible.

A U.S. diplomat representing Washington in the United Nations Security Council decision to impose sanctions on North Korea for its nuclear test in May said in Seoul recently that the agreement between the North and Hyundai Group to resume cross-border business and tourism programs fell outside the international resolution to punish North Korea, clearing the decks for the two Koreas to rekindle aid and cooperation.

Government-level talks can naturally lead to a summit meeting. Leaders of the two Koreas can make a dramatic breakthrough in bilateral ties, considering the significance and urgency of the issues on the table. But a summit meeting should take place only when the mood is ripe for a definite outcome.

We would like to recommend ministerial-level talks, but for a more productive option, we think Kim Yang-gon should be the dialogue partner for the South’s Unification Minister Hyun In-taek. He is the North’s intelligence chief and spearheads a policy team on inter-Korean relations. In past ministerial meetings, the North Korean delegation was led by a cabinet minister who lacked a policy-making role. So past meetings focused on economic aid rather than more urgent political and security issues.

Kim, who was part of the diplomatic delegation that recently visited Seoul, is one of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s most trusted aides. The South can specifically raise the nuclear problem with him as well as other significant issues.

In the past, Kim’s dialogue partner from the South would have been the chief of the National Intelligence Service. But it would be inappropriate for our intelligence chief to head inter-Korean talks.

The policy on North Korea should be as transparent as possible in order to gain the necessary public support.
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